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Running Bear


Johnny Preston

Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song was written by J.P. Richardson, who was an influential Texas disc jockey known as "The Big Bopper." Richardson had a hit of his own in 1958 with "Chantilly Lace," and on February 3, 1959, was killed in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. In America, this song was released about 6 months later, as it was delayed by legal constraints due to Richardson's death in the plane crash.
Rock and Roll was still in its infancy in the '50s, and teenagers were the target audience. Many of the songs of that era are about teenagers, and like this one, often involve tragedy. In this song, Running Bear is a young Indian who falls in love with a girl from the rival tribe across the river. At the end of the song, they swim to meet each other and drown.
This was a Country hit for Sonny James in 1969. Other artists to record it include George Jones, Don Fardon and The Guess Who. Jones did the "Ocka Chunka" backing with The Big Bopper on the original.
Richardson thought the Romeo & Juliet theme of this song was too serious for him to record. He passed it on to his friend, the Cajun musician friend Johnny Preston, who originally was unsure about the song but was eventually persuaded to cut it. Preston became a Rockabilly star and followed "Running Bear" with the #7 "Cradle of Love." He died on March 4, 2011 at age 71.
In 1971 The English singer and Pop mogul Jonathan King took the "Ocka Chunka" backing from this hit and added it to the B.J. Thomas song "Hooked On A Feeling." His cover reached #23 in the UK and three years later Swedish group Blue Swede topped the American singles chart with their version again with the "Ocka Chunka" backing.
Johnny Preston
More Johnny Preston songs
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Comments (7):

On January 18th 1960, "Running Bear" by Johnny Preston peaked at #1 (for 3 weeks); it had entered the chart on October 6th, 1959 and spent over a half-year on the Top 100 (27 weeks)...
He had one other record, "Cradle of Love", to make the Top 10, it reached #7 (for 1 week) on May 2nd, 1960...
The three weeks "Running Bear" was at #1 the three different records at #2 were not really 'bridesmaids', for each one also peaked at #1 ("El Paso" by Marty Robbins, "Why" by Frankie Avalon, and "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning)...
Sonny James covered "Running Bear" in 1969; it stayed on the Top 100 for two weeks, peaking at position #94...
R.I.P. Mr. Preston, born John Preston Courville, (1939 - 2011) and Mr. James, born James Hugh Loden, will celebrate his 85th birthday this coming May 1st (2014).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I heard a version of this song Running Bear. But it did not have the chanting in the back ground and the song might have been mistitled.
I'm looking for a specific version of this classic J.P. Richardson song, NOT by Johnny Preston. Nor Sonny James, George Jones, Don Fardon or The Guess Who...

This version has no chanting, and is done in a classic country style, with a serene mood and vocal.

Anyone know of any other artists who have recorded this song?
- naomi, fargo, ND
For some unknown reason; our local AM rock station in Utica, NY {WTLB} played a version by somebody named Smiley Wilson instead of Johnny Preston's. Also the theme of the song is very similar to Western movie star Rex Allen's 'Don't Go Near The Indains' record, it peaked at No. 17 in 1962...
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I thought Running Bear was the most famous Native American streaker. Get it? (Feel free to groan.)
- Marissa, Akron, OH
my mother's and my stepdad's love theme for each other..he was running bear,and she was "little white dove"..go figure! lol
- steve dotstar, los angeles, CA
How times change. Imagine someone writing this now, they would get instantly accused of being racist and "non-PC".
- Andy, Halesowen, West Midlands, United Kingdom
Not only did George Jones once cover this tune, he actually sang back up on the original recording!
- J, Toronto, Canada
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